In Jones v. Oklahoma City Public Schools, a federal appeals court held that a school employee who was demoted and replaced with a younger worker can pursue her age discrimination claim. Judy Jones began working as a teacher for the Oklahoma City Public Schools in 1969, and was promoted to the position of Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction in 2002. Beginning in 2006, Jones’ supervisors began to ask her questions about her retirement plans. In 2007, a newly hired superintendent determined that the school district’s executive team should be reorganized. In connection with this reorganization, Jones’ position was eliminated and her job duties were immediately absorbed by other employees. Jones was reassigned as an elementary school principal. Although her salary remained the same during her first year of employment in that position, her salary declined by approximately $17,000 after she completed her first year as principal. Her vacation benefits were affected immediately upon her demotion. Approximately one month after Jones’ reassignment, the Superintendent created the new position called Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, with job duties that “were quite similar to those of Jones’ former position of Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction.” The district filled this new position with an individual who was forty-seven years old; at the time of Jones’ demotion, she was nearly sixty years old.
Jones filed suit in federal court, claiming that the district had demoted her in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the “ADEA”). The district court initially dismissed the claim, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The appeals court rejected the school district’s argument that Jones did not suffer an adverse employment action because she remained in a position with similar responsibilities and received a daily pay rate that was “almost exactly the same” as her per diem rate as an executive director. The court emphasized the fact that Jones suffered a $17,000 decrease in salary in the second year following her demotion and “lost professional prestige and fell to a lower position in the district’s organization hierarchy.” The court further credited Jones’ evidence showing that three executive directors involved in the reassignment decision had made age-related comments regarding Jones’ retirement. Click here for the full text of this case.